Smoked baby back ribs are a classic favorite for barbecue enthusiasts. Known for their tender meat and rich flavor, they're a staple at summer cookouts and family gatherings. Smoking the ribs slowly at a low temperature infuses them with a deep, smoky flavor while keeping them moist and succulent.
Baby Back Ribs
2 racks of baby back ribs (about 3-4 pounds)
2 tablespoons of brown sugar
1 tablespoon of paprika
1 tablespoon of garlic powder
1 tablespoon of onion powder
1 tablespoon of ground black pepper
1 tablespoon of kosher salt
1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper (optional for heat)
2 cups of apple wood chips, soaked in water for 30 minutes
1 cup of apple cider vinegar for spritzing
Homemade Barbecue Sauce
1 cup tomato paste
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons honey or molasses
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
Salt and black pepper to taste
A pinch of cayenne pepper (optional, for heat)
Begin by removing the membrane from the back of the ribs using a butter knife and paper towels for grip. This allows the smoke and seasonings to better penetrate the meat. Mix brown sugar, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, kosher salt, and cayenne pepper in a bowl to make the dry rub. Apply the rub generously on both sides of the ribs, ensuring even coverage. Let the ribs sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes to allow the rub to set.
Prepare your smoker by filling it with the soaked apple wood chips in accordance with your smoker's manual, and preheat it to a steady 225°F (107°C). If using a charcoal smoker, maintain the temperature by adding charcoal and wood chips as needed. For gas or electric smokers, follow the manufacturer's instructions to maintain a consistent temperature. Place a water pan in the smoker to help maintain humidity, which keeps the ribs moist during the long smoking process. The goal is to create a consistent, gentle smoke that infuses the ribs with flavor without overpowering them.
Cooking the Ribs
Place the ribs bone-side down on the smoker grates. Close the smoker lid and let the ribs cook for about 3 hours. Avoid opening the smoker frequently, as this can cause temperature fluctuations. Every hour, lightly spritz the ribs with apple cider vinegar to keep them moist. This also adds a slight tanginess to the ribs. If you notice any parts drying out more than others, rotate the ribs to ensure even cooking.
Wrapping the Ribs
After 3 hours, check the ribs for tenderness. They should be starting to pull away from the bone. Tear off two large sheets of aluminum foil and place each rack of ribs on a sheet. Wrap the ribs tightly in the foil, creating a seal. This process, known as the 'Texas crutch,' helps to speed up cooking, retain moisture, and prevent over-smoking. Return the wrapped ribs to the smoker and cook for another 2 hours.
In a saucepan, combine the tomato paste, apple cider vinegar, and water. Stir well to achieve a smooth consistency.
Add the brown sugar, honey or molasses, and Worcestershire sauce. Stir to combine.
Season with garlic powder, onion powder, smoked paprika, salt, and black pepper. If you like a bit of heat, add a pinch of cayenne pepper.
Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, then reduce the heat to low.
Let the sauce simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. This will allow the flavors to meld together and the sauce to thicken slightly.
Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed. Let the sauce cool down before using it as a glaze for your ribs.
Glazing and Serving
After 2 hours, carefully unwrap the ribs. They should be very tender at this point. Apply your favorite barbecue sauce generously over the ribs and return them to the smoker, unwrapped, for an additional 30 minutes. This final step allows the sauce to caramelize and stick to the ribs, creating a delicious glaze. Once done, remove the ribs from the smoker and let them rest for about 10 minutes. This resting period lets the juices redistribute, ensuring the ribs are juicy and flavorful. Slice between the bones and serve hot.
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